Australia gives boats to Sri Lanka to tackle people-smuggling

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 November, 2013, 5:16am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 November, 2013, 5:16am


Australia said it would give Sri Lanka two patrol boats to tackle people-smuggling operations in the Indian Ocean, hoping they can detect vessels before they leave the Asian nation's waters.

The decision comes with the Tony Abbott-led government ramping up efforts to deter asylum seekers arriving on unauthorised boats, a sensitive political issue that was a dominant factor in September elections.

While many boats make the precarious journey from Indonesia, 120 left from Sri Lanka last year for what can be a three-week voyage, according to official figures, although only 14 have been detected so far this year.

"Australia is providing training with the patrol boats, which will operate alongside the Sri Lankan Navy's existing capability to intercept people-smuggling efforts originating in Sri Lankan waters," Abbott's office said in a statement. "Our co-operation with Sri Lanka in the region is important as it is effective."

Sri Lankan police have arrested dozens of people for organising illegal boat trips to Australia, including several naval personnel in an embarrassment for Colombo, which had maintained there was no senior-level official collusion with the smugglers.

According to reports, the patrol boats are 38-metre vessels which have a complement of 12 sailors. They have been a mainstay of Australian maritime surveillance since the late 1990s, but are now being phased out.